Takes One to Know One

Chapter 8

Kurt groaned and pulled the covers over his head as soon as he saw the clock on the bedside table. It was ten minutes to five. In eight minutes or less, Scott would begin knocking on doors, getting people up for the drills. Logan had always simply turned on the alarms and let people scramble. Scott, however, was thorough. He knew the Brotherhood would have ignored the alarms and slept in, and that was something he wasn‘t about to let by.

So now the rest of us are getting punished too, Kurt thought wryly. Sessions had ceased to be fun in any way since the Brotherhood were pestered to join in. It wasn’t that there was a bunch of grumpy teenagers who clearly didn’t want to be there (which wasn‘t that odd at five in the morning), but because Scott seemed to get super uptight the moment they all walked into the Danger Room. He was just as pissed as the Brotherhood that Toad was managing to skip out.

Kurt hadn’t volunteered the location of the boy’s room, though he wondered how long Todd was going to be able to keep this up. He was going to get it bad on all sides if he tried. Though Scott would honor the excuse that Todd wasn‘t well, Kurt was sure the rest of the Brotherhood wouldn‘t. If only Todd had talked to the Brotherhood instead of avoiding them. He said he would today and Kurt could only hope they’d be receptive and understanding, and not simply kick his ass.

Kurt groaned and tossed the covers away. He may as well get up and get dressed. Going back to sleep was impossible. Gone were the days when he could sleep in until nine - Scott’s steady pounding always arrived at about five minutes after five o’clock on his door - whether it occurred in dreams or in reality. Kurt pulled on his uniform and did a few stretches to limber up. He settled into a yoga stance and heard the familiar crackle of vertebrae shifting. And also a snore.

Kurt blinked, and stayed in position, listening hard. The snore came again, light and nasal, from outside his room. His balcony. Kurt crept over and twitched aside the venetian blinds covering the glass door. Todd was curled up on the cold cement, one arm flung over his head and the other pillowed beneath his arm. There were a couple of leaves in his hair, fluttering in the morning breeze.

He opened the door quietly, relieved for Todd’s sake to find that it was at least a warm breeze - though it would mean a miserably hot day for himself. Kurt moved silently to Todd’s side and gently shook his shoulder. The boy curled tighter into a ball, mumbling nonsense. Kurt tried again but to no avail - Todd was out like a light. Maybe he hadn’t slept all night.

Well, he couldn’t just leave him out here, could he? Warm breeze or no, he should be resting in a bed. Kurt considered porting Todd to his own room. But what if Scott had found out where it was by now? And if not him, Kurt was almost certain that the Brotherhood would be pounding at every door trying to find him for a little ‘chat‘.

Best to leave Todd here. Scott would come knocking on his door and he could simply port out. It wouldn’t occur to anyone that Todd was here, and he could get some real sleep.

Carefully, Kurt slid his arms beneath Todd’s body (surprised and worried to find his skin cold despite the warm air; reassured only by the rise and fall of his scrawny chest) and lifted him up. He glanced over the balcony rail to make sure the coast was clear and then carried Todd inside his room, shutting the door behind him with his tail and gently settled Todd on the bed.

It was then he noticed the lack of smell. The boy’s usual odor was gone, save for a faint trace of it in his clothing. Kurt tilted his head, curiously. Then he heard footsteps down the hall and a series of knocks. Scott’s muffled voice told Tabby to get out of bed and Tabby’s clearer voice told him precisely where he could shove it.

Kurt rolled his eyes and pulled the covers over Todd. The boy slept through even the noise of the argument escalating down the hall. He’d have to come back and check on Todd later. He didn’t want anyone to knock on the door and jar him from the rest he looked like he needed. There were dark circles beneath Todd’s eyes and his skin was still too pale.

Kurt hovered uncertainly and then backed away and ported into the hallway. Scott looked at him, irritated - though the elf knew it wasn’t directed at him. “Good to see you’re up at least. Go ahead to the Danger Room - apparently Tabitha’s got someone staying over. Even though it’s against the rules to have boys in your room overnight!” Scott shouted through the door, for Tabby’s benefit.

“I don’t have a boy in my room!” Tabby yelled back. “For fuck’s sake, Summers!”

“Then why do I hear two people moving around? Toad, if that‘s you in there, don’t even think about hopping out a window!”

“What?!” Tabby yelped. She flung the door open, glaring at Scott. “Are you freaking kidding me?! Toad? Really?!

Kurt winced, both at the words and at the shrillness in her voice. He hoped Tabitha wasn’t going to start defending her virtue by means of the many insults he always heard circling Todd’s name. The boy really didn’t need to wake up to that.

“I’ll have you know that I followed the ‘no boys allowed’ rule to the fucking letter. See for yourself.” Tabby gestured behind her grandly, walking out into the hallway and crossing her arms. She pointedly kept her nose up, snubbing Scott. Amara followed, blushing and adjusting her uniform as if the spandex were somehow made of sheer material.

“Oh, you two. Sorry Tabitha. Guess you weren’t fooling around.”

Pfft. Shows how much you know,” Tabby smirked, and put an arm around Amara’s shoulders. They walked down to the kitchen together, giggling.

Scott looked at Kurt haplessly. “What the heck was that about? I don‘t think I‘ll ever understand her.”

Considering you’re two years older than me and you still say ’heck’, no you probably won’t, Kurt thought to himself. He liked Scott too much to say that to his face, even though he wished his fearless leader would lighten up (and sometimes wake up; it was painfully obvious Tabby and Amara were an item but Scott somehow managed to convince himself that they were best friends having a sleepover - every other night).

“Come on, let’s just go,” Scott grumbled when Kurt’s only answer was a shrug.

* * *

“IsweartoGod, Iamgonnastranglethatlittleshit!” Pietro ranted, wiping the paint off his face and (unsuccessfully) off his clothing. Another Danger Room session, another disaster. They’d once again gotten their asses handed to them by the X-men, who clearly had them at a disadvantage during their paintball war. Scott had evened the teams by placing a few X-geeks on the Brotherhood side, but he’d given them the newbie X-geeks who were basically useless. Sam Guthrie and Jamie Madrox couldn’t have hit the broad side of a barn in Pietro’s opinion. Rahne had been an okay shot, but Lance had forgotten she was on their team and had shot at her, which had prompted her to storm off and refuse to participate, ignoring all attempts on Jean’s part to soothe her ruffled feathers.

They’d been unevenly matched and quickly; Wanda had been benched for making paintball guns explode in people’s faces and Fred made too big of a target to last more than two minutes on the field. Lance had stupidly charged Summers and been blasted from all sides with green paint. Pietro had gotten out five before a lucky shot from Rogue had tagged him out.

He could have gotten more if Todd had been there - the boy was quick and had good aim. As begrudging as Pietro was to give him praise for anything, the practice session could have gone less embarrassing for them if he’d actually shown up. Even Scott had marked his absence, telling Lance that they needed to work on their team-skills and that included making sure all their teammates showed up.

Fucking hypocrite. First he was forcing the Brotherhood to play in all of their little X-men games (Xavier had actually made them uniforms. X-man uniforms. As if any of them would be caught dead wearing one of those) and now he was stating that making sure Todd showed up was the Brotherhood’s sole responsibility.

“Whatthefuckishisproblem? Huh? Hejustsleepingalldayorsomething?” Pietro whizzed over to window, glared out of it, and then back to the mirror.

“Chill out, Pietro. Kitty told me Todd’s going through some weird mutant phase or something. I’m actually worried about him,” Lance muttered. He had red and green paint streaks in his hair. Kitty had probably made out with him after the session. Ugh, Pietro thought.

“Yeah, whatever. He should of come and talked with us, then. He‘s on our team, right? Then he should of told us,” Fred scowled, kicking at a patch of threadbare carpet. He was hurt that Todd had been obviously avoiding him. “It can’t be nothin’ too serious or he’d be in the infirmary.”

“Guys, I don’t know. He’s been acting weird. He cussed out Wanda, remember?”

Pietro did, and he bristled at the reminder. She’d been rather upset about it. Of course she denied it when he approached her, but he could tell she was bothered. “Yeah. That’s another thing I’d like to talk to him about actually,” he growled, speech finally slowing down.

“You know, all of us ganging up on him isn’t going to make him come back. Something must have driven him away from us,” Lance reasoned. He knew that the something was a someone who’s name started with ‘W’, though he wasn’t crazy enough to say that in front of someone’s brother. “Just let me talk to him, okay? Man to man, and at the very least maybe I can find out what the fuck is going on.”

“Sure, Lance, go for it. If you can freaking find him,” Pietro snorted. He caught Freddy’s eye. “In fact, maybe we’ll split up and look for him. You find him first, then you can talk to him your way.”

“Pietro . . .” Lance said warningly. But the fast mutant was already out the door, with Freddy moving at a slower pace behind him. He gave Dukes an unreadable though slightly pleading expression. “Fred, if he finds Todd first . . .”

Fred glanced at him, frown softening. “He’s my friend, ‘kay? I’m pissed at him, but he’s still my friend.” Saying nothing more, he continued to follow Pietro outside.

Somewhat reassured, Lance went to the sink to finish cleaning up.

* * *

In the end, what woke Todd up was the soft click of leaves hurled against the window of the balcony. The morning breeze had kicked up into a wind, mercifully disrupting the forecast of an otherwise hot muggy day. It promised a thunderstorm on the way, either later that night or the next day.

He burrowed under the blankets, glad he was no longer outside on Wagner’s balcony in the choppy weather. Wait a fuckin’ second here . . .

Todd’s eyes snapped open and he sat up in an unfamiliar bed. A quick look around at the photos and furniture confirmed that it was Wagner’s room. His heart started up in a panic. How had he gotten in? Had he crawled in and collapsed in the guy’s bed the moment it got windy out there? How had he shut the door after him?

Todd looked around wildly at the clock, at the bed. It was made up perfectly, except for the covers that were over his body. Nothing was knocked down or over, and Todd doubted that he would have had the ability to actually climbed up into the bed while asleep, let alone to pull the covers over himself so neatly. Plus, the balcony doors had a latch on them.

This left one option. Kurt had seen him outside. Had moved him inside, and put him in his bed. And Todd had somehow slept through all that. Embarrassment heated his face, though oddly so did something else he couldn’t quite name. Pleasure, perhaps? Nobody had ever carried him to bed as a child, had ever tucked him in. If Todd had laid down to sleep on the dirty carpet when he was younger, that was exactly where he’d woken up the next morning.

Todd shook his head to snap out of it. As warm as he felt that Wagner had carried him to bed (aw shit, how bad did that sound in his head?) he still felt unsettled that he’d managed to sleep so soundly through it. Todd didn’t sleep soundly. At his house growing up, at the Brotherhood’s house, the tiniest bump in the night or the quietest voice would often wake him. He’d lay for an hour or more, body tense, waiting for the signs that everyone was asleep (and going to stay asleep and leave him alone), before letting himself drift off again.

But someone actually picking him up and carrying him . . . Todd shivered. He was lucky it had been Kurt who found him. Obviously this second-manifestation crap was wiping him out to the point where he could sleep through anything, and that was goddamned scary.

In any case, he was sure he had better get out of here. Probably from the balcony; questions and eyebrows would rise to dramatic heights if he was seen leaving Kurt’s room via door with rumpled clothing, messy hair and no shoes.

Todd got up and went to the mirror unthinkingly, finger combing his hair. He started at the spots and swallowed, determinedly looking down at the dresser after he’d finished. Kurt’s mother and father were in a frame, perched on top of a box. There was a comb for his hair, a brush for the rest of him, and a few other pointless knick knacks. Also, the holowatch . . .

He stared at it numbly for a moment, and then picked it up. The time read six o’clock. Right now, Kurt was probably getting breakfast after the Danger Room session. Which meant he’d be back to his room soon. Or maybe not. Maybe he was planning on coming back later, giving Todd a chance to retreat with dignity. He chewed his lip, turning the watch over in his hands.

Before, he would have stolen this without hesitation, but he wasn’t going to risk alienating himself from Kurt, as such an act would do. Todd held it though and then put it on. Just for a moment. Just for a brief moment.

The interface was easy to figure out. First was Kurt’s usual image - the dark hair, teasing smile, dorky clothing. Todd changed it until he found one that he’d used in Arrowrose - the blond snowboarder. A few tweaks, and the blond hair was replaced with brown. His eyes were hazel, his posture straight and his teeth white and perfect. Todd looked down at the perfect hallucination of healthy, normal skin and then at last brought himself, trembling, to look up at the mirror.

Human. He looked perfectly human. No webbed fingers, no slightly curved spine, no spots. Even his eyes looked normal. He didn’t look handsome - his nose still had that previously broken look to it, but Todd had left that in to make the illusion more believable - at least to him.

Would Wanda have loved him if he looked like this? Would anyone have? Todd reached to the mirror and touched his reflection’s face.

He didn’t register the soft click of the door opening or Kurt’s soft footfalls on the carpet coming to a standstill. For a long moment, Todd stared at himself - until he caught Kurt’s reflection in the mirror behind him. He gasped and fumbled to turn off the holowatch, spots and all reappearing. Todd turned his back on the image and looked at Kurt, frantic to explain himself.

“Dawg, I - I just wanted to see! I wasn’t gonna take it, honest!”

“I know,” Kurt said, voice sounding a little rough. He swallowed to smooth out the lump in his throat and moved a little closer. “I know you weren’t. It’s okay.”

Todd relaxed marginally, though it was with a shaking hand he set the holowatch down on the dresser. He did not even glance at the mirror now. Kurt didn’t know what to say. He shifted from foot to foot, wishing for something brilliant and meaningful to appear in his head. Instead he reached into his pocket and brought out a muffin and an apple, wrapped in paper towels. “Got you some breakfast. In case you were still here.”

Some life returned to Todd’s wan face in the form of a light smirk. “Look at you, sneakin’ food to me. Plannin’ to keep me here as a pet or somethin’?”

“Nein! I mean . . . well . . . you can stay here if you want. Actually it’s probably best. The Brotherhood got their butts kicked in practice today. Paintball.”

“Crap,” Todd winced. “Pietro’s gonna string me up if even one hair on his head got splattered. Wish Summers would stop doing this early-in-the-morning crap. I am never gonna catch them in a good mood.”

“Well . . . eat some breakfast. And maybe we could go together. I could port you out of there if things go south.”

“No, dawg. Thanks, but that will just make things a million times worse.” Todd bit into the apple, chewing thoughtfully and sat on the ground, his back to the dresser. “If they beat me up, well, ‘least I can’t look too much worse than I already do,” he joked.

Kurt sat down across from him, still holding the muffin. It was chocolate chip and those were always in huge demand when the Danger Room session got let out. He’d ported into the kitchen and grabbed the last one, just as Wanda was reaching for it, and ported back out before she could hex him into next Tuesday.

Not that he was going to tell Todd this - he’d probably take the muffin back to her and that was simply not cool because he’d stolen the muffin for Todd, at great risk to his own life, dammit, and therefore Todd was going to enjoy every last crumb. (Sometimes Kurt had to wonder about his sanity; sitting on the floor and rambling in his head about a muffin.)

Todd tossed the apple core in the vicinity of the garbage bin beneath Kurt’s desk. He reached for the rest of his breakfast before Kurt could question his mental health any further. “Think I better wait until they cool down though, in any case. You know . . . I didn’t exactly bring my costume, er . . . uniform . . . whatever the fuck it is. Spandex thing. So if they make me go practice with them tomorrow, I ain‘t sure what I‘m s’posed to wear.”

“Well, the Professor actually made you all battle uniforms. Stop making that face,” Kurt grinned. “They’re not that bad. Better than a goldfish bowl helmet at least.”

“Yeah, well, I ain’t wearin’ no bright green spandex crap, or any variation thereof. M’already turnin’ green enough, thank you. Don’t need to look like no freaking comic book character.” Todd bit into the muffin with a chomp that was perhaps more violent than it needed to be and then chewed. The scowl went away after a moment. “Mmmm. Chocolate chip.”

Kurt laughed and reached over to thoughtlessly ruffle Todd’s hair. “Fixes almost everything, ja?”

“Almost,” Todd agreed, licking melted chocolate off his fingers. The notion to swat Kurt’s hand away didn’t make any appearance.

“Anyway, all of them are standard black and grey - no clown colors, I promise. I’m pretty sure you can make any changes you want to the uniform. He didn’t put the X-man emblem on them, knowing you guys probably wouldn’t like that.”

“Tch. So now yo feedin’ me and dressin’ me up.”

Kurt snorted, better prepared this time for the teasing remark, though he could still feel himself flushing. “Shut up.”

Todd smirked and finished his muffin, once again licking his fingers off, though this time he used more of his tongue. Kurt wasn’t sure if it was on purpose or not, but his skin heated up even more. He looked away, searching for a distraction. His eyes fell on the picture of him and Amanda on his desk.

“So . . . uh. Thanks again for last night.”

Todd left off licking and stared at him. “Last night?” His eyebrow raised up slowly. His eyes flicked toward the bed, where he’d woken up not twenty minutes ago. “Is there something . . . I should know?

Kurt reached behind him and threw a pillow at Todd. “I meant for talking to Amanda!” he yelped. Todd fell over laughing as Kurt huffed in mortification.

“God damn dawg! You are so easy to rile up!” Todd cackled. He tossed the pillow back at him, wiping at his eyes. “I know you wouldn’t touch me with a ten foot pond net - so take it easy, yo. No need to freak out.”

Something about the way he said that made Kurt’s chest tighten. He looked down at the pillow in his hands and tossed it behind him on the bed. “I’m not freaking out,” he muttered, for lack of anything to say. “I just . . .” This was turning awkward fast. Subject change in ten, nine, eight . . .

“Did you want to work on your room today? Logan mentioned this morning that he gave you permission to use a drill. God help us all,” he smirked. It worked, Todd rolled his eyes.

“I actually think I can wait on that a bit. Don’t you need to go hang out with Amanda or somethin?”

“Later,” Kurt shrugged. “She’s calling me tonight. For now, I’m free.”

“Cool.” It was Todd’s turn to be awkward now as he became suddenly entranced with his shoelaces. “Well, like I said, I’m gonna wait a bit before I go find the guys. Probably oughta go find Logan and see if we fixed his bike. We took one of the spares last night to Sefton‘s. It rode okay, but felt kinda jumpy.”

“Yeah? I didn’t ever know you were so good with machines.”

“It’s just a knack. Oh reminds me, I better reset your holowatch.” He reached up and picked it off the dresser, fiddling with the knobs. “There, got it. Hang on a minute . . . Gotta make one minor adjustment . . .”

“Alrigh - hey, what adjustment? You’re not making my hair pink or anything are you?”

“Nah, nothin’ like that. Just pullin’ your damned pants up. They been drivin’ me crazy, yo!”

“What - Todd!” Kurt made a grab for the watch. “My pants are none of your business!”

Todd moved it out of reach, hopping on the computer chair. “Dawg, showin’ off your boxers in the hallway is not as cool as you think it is, trust me!”

“Well it wasn’t my idea! The Professor‘s the one who set that thing up.”
He stopped to stare at Kurt. “Ohhh . . . that’s just a whole new level of wrong! Here.” Todd tossed the watch to him and Kurt huffed, fastening it around his wrist and turning it on. He looked normal save that his image wore cargo pants around the waist now, without any green boxers in sight.

“Tch, I guess it’s an improvement,” he admitted, begrudgingly.

“Good, ‘cause if you wanted it changed back, you’d have had to ask the Professor. And I woulda filmed that for posterity,” Todd grinned cheekily. Kurt aimed a good-natured swat at his head, which the boy barely ducked. Cackling, he hopped onto the balcony and onto the railing, looking impishly over his shoulder at the elf.

“See ya around then, fuzzy.” Todd jumped down, landing softly on the grass and started walking towards the garage.

Kurt watched him from the window, sighing in fond exasperation before heading out into the hall.

Consequently, he didn’t see Todd stop in the middle of the lawn, turning to look at the line of trees near the gazebo, near where Mr. Sefton had confronted him. Todd paused for a long moment, then headed towards it.

* * *

{Morla? That you?}

It was with quite a bit of nervousness that Todd called out. If he was speaking human, then all he risked was sounding like a dork. If otherwise, he could get stuck like that again, and would have to go to the Professor again. He swallowed, walking carefully to the pond - lest he step on someone.

Risk or not, Todd did want to at least see if Morla was around. Maybe he could ask the amphibian how he could stop the dreams.

Maybe they hadn’t been dreams, but events. He remembered jaws coming up from the dark. To a frog, they’d be huge - the jaws of a pike or trout. But there weren’t any fish in this pond, so it couldn’t have been here. He wanted the visions to stop, whatever they were.

{It is Nadii.} The little guy seemed to puff up and Todd had to resist smiling.

{So where is Morla?}

{Not here. He will return at mid-mark, if not sooner. You may speak with me instead.}

Todd sat down on the pond wall, looking at the frog. He was still tiny, eyes bugging out and skin shining with wetness. Carefully, Todd lowered his hand to his level. {I won’t throw you again. Promise. I’m really sorry for that.}

{Did you think I was a predator?}

{No. I thought you were freaky. Never spoke to a frog before in my life.} He smiled sheepishly as Nadii climbed onto his hand again, hesitantly.

{You smell like a predator and look like a predator, but you are not. Morla said you are our friend. He said if you came back, I was to speak with you. And to tell others to speak with you.}

Todd winced as a sudden chorus blasted his ears. A great number of frogs were chirping welcome, a few shouting their names in introduction, and one or two seemed to be singing.

Nadii turned in his palm and squared off against the inhabitants of the pond and the cattails surrounding it. {One at a time, I said! Quiet down!}

His orders were ineffectual; the chirping and shouting and singing rose to new heights of volume. Todd wore the expression of a dog listening to a high pitched frequency.

{I am sorry for this. I will fix it.} Nadii apologized. He turned back to face the teeming water. {PREDATOR!!!}

The noise quit immediately, save for a stray peeping which was ominously cut off by a violent-sounding plop. As if nothing had happened, Nadii looked up at Todd. {We have not seen you since that day the other Uprights took you inside. All of us were trying to speak to you at once and we wonder if maybe it hurt you. You looked as if you were in great pain.}

{I was okay. Mostly I was just . . . stuck. I could talk your language, but not theirs. Everything’s cool now.} Todd grinned at him.

{Can we talk to him now?} Another voice piped from the water. Its owner sounded young and impatient.

{Yeah, stop hogging the Upright! It’s our turn, Nadii!}

{Mish, Hota, be quiet and wait your turn! I am in charge!} Nadii ordered them, puffing up again.

{You are a such a self-important wog, Nadii!}

{Don’t you make me come in there, Loosh!} Nadii threatened. Todd didn’t think it was possible for such a tiny frog to make himself look so puffy. He had swelled to a perfectly round little ball of rage with two eyes glaring from the top of his head.

Smirking, he lightly touched Nadii’s back with the pad of his finger. The little frog flattened at first and made as if to jump off but when Todd started lightly rubbing the smooth skin Nadii arched up into it, eyes closing to half-slits. The indignant rage over his challenged authority was forgotten.

{Oooh. That spot there. That’s nice.} He leaned to the side distractedly as Todd tried not to laugh.

And suddenly, Nadii vanished from his hand. Todd felt a familiar rush of air accompany the disappearance and looked up with sharp dread.

Pietro stood a few feet away, holding the squirming frog between cupped hands. “Hey, Todd. This your new friend?” he asked. His tone was dangerous. The important thing though, was that Todd could understand him. This was no time to get stuck again.

Todd could feel his heart hammering. He didn’t think Pietro would kill the little frog outright, but he could easily injure Nadii or worse without thinking. It was doubtful he’d feel any remorse for the act.

“He’s just a little frog, yo. Be cool,” Todd shrugged, acting nonchalant. He knew that if he acted upset, things would be worse for Nadii.

“Huh. He’s cute,” Pietro said. He opened his hand and Nadii hopped immediately into the air, towards freedom. Pietro merely zipped to where he was going to land and caught him. He tossed Nadii up, and Todd winced as the panicked amphibian squirmed and flailed in midair only to be caught again.

“So,” Pietro drawled, continuing this game as if he were playing catch with a ping pong ball. “You’ve been scarce lately, Toad. Was it something we said?”

“No,” Todd croaked miserably, stomach flipping in nauseous sympathy for Nadii. He could no longer pretend this didn’t bother him. “Pietro, put him down.”

“Relax, Toad. Frogs like jumping, remember?”

“Not like that, they don’t,” Todd said lowly. His hands balled into fists. He was very glad he couldn’t hear Nadii right now, though he didn’t have to hear to know the little guy was probably terrified for his life. And wondering why Todd wasn’t helping him.
“You’re pissed at me, ‘Tro. I know that. So take it out on me.”

“I am,” Pietro said, smiling. Nadii was no longer jumping, simply letting himself get tossed and caught. Pietro cupped his hands around the little creature. “Well, he looks bored. Guess I should put him down so we can talk this out, huh?”

Todd’s back stiffened at the underlying menace in that tone. He was proven right; Pietro winded up as if he was going to deliver a fastball pitch. Nadii wasn’t likely to survive being thrown that fast or that far. Pietro paused for effect - most likely giving Todd the opportunity to beg him not to.

Instead, Todd snapped his green tongue around Pietro’s wrist and bent it back with a snap. Pietro yelled as the sudden pain made him open his hand. Nadii rolled off his palm limply and Todd let go of Pietro’s wrist to scoop him up with his tongue, dragging the little frog into his mouth. He didn’t swallow, hurrying to the pond and letting Nadii drop into the water.

For a horrifying moment, broken only by Pietro’s cursing as he nursed his wrist, Nadii simply floated motionless in the water. Then he moved, darting away to the shelter of the reeds.

A few chirps and song broke out from them, perhaps reassuring Todd. Or scolding him for not acting sooner. Either way, he wanted them to hide now - it wasn’t safe.

{PREDATOR!} He barked and the noises stopped. He turned to glare at Pietro and saw the boy was already getting up with a snarl. Todd braced himself as Maximoff slammed into him, knocking him down into the mossy grass.

“You fucker - you could’ve broken my wrist -”

“An’ you woulda deserved it if I had, you ff -” Todd was cut off by a blow to the mouth, but delivered one of his own swiftly enough.

Insults were shouted out and interrupted as the boys exchanged blows and tried to pin the other to the ground. Pietro was too fast to get a good hold on and he fought just as dirty as Todd did. They banged their knees several times on simultaneous tries to slam them into each other’s groin and Todd had the advantage of a tongue which prevented Pietro from getting any hold on him.

They rolled in the wet grass until Pietro’s back slammed against two heavy and unmovable objects - Freddy’s shoes. The boy sighed and reached down to separate his friends. This was, for him, as easy as peeling apart two tangled clusters of grapes. With one hand on the back of Pietro’s jacket, and the other on the collar of Todd’s shirt, he simply picked them up and held them apart.

“You guys are done fighting,” he said matter-of-factly. “I am gonna put you down now and if anyone hits anybody else, I’m gonna wallop ‘em flat. Got it?”

Todd spat blood and nodded sullenly. Pietro did the same, gingerly reaching up to feel what would be a shiner later in the day. Unceremoniously, Fred dumped them onto the ground. He folded his arms and gave them a warning look, mostly aiming it at Pietro in a silent reminder that even if the boy hit Todd and then ran away, he couldn’t avoid Fred’s fist forever. Freddy was not above hitting a sleeping man.

Scowling, Pietro brushed himself off. “So what the hell’s been with you, anyway?” he asked Todd. “You’ve been more of a loser than usual since we got here.”

“How’s that?” Todd sneered. “By not wanting to deal with your bullshit?”

“What bullshit!? I haven’t done anything to you! Well, except now. But Fred hasn’t! Lance hasn’t! Why are you avoiding us? What the fuck did you yell at Wanda for? She didn‘t need that, not from you!”

“Yeah, well she said some things that I didn’t need to hear neither!” Todd shot back, stinging. “And she meant them! Maybe I shouldn’t have yelled at her. Scratch that, I know I should‘ve have! But I . . . I can’t see her. Yo, I almost don’t even want to talk to her anymore.” His shoulders slumped. He didn’t expect any sympathy from Pietro, but it was the truth.

“I didn’t think she could say anything to tick you off this bad,” Fred observed, tilting his head.

“Yeah, Wanda’s always insulting, belittling, or hexing you. What’s so different this time?” Pietro added.

“. . . Dawg, I don’t even want to repeat it.”

“Well summarize it then. What could she have said that made you think turning your back completely on us was the way to go? I mean, we’re supposed to be a team and Summers has been completely ragging on us becauseyoukeepskippingoutandeverytimewehaveaDangerRoomsession,you’reneverthereandwe’resupposedtojust-”

“Pietro. We’re a team. Right now, that means shut up and let him talk,” Fred interjected.

The albino youth let his mouth close with click, and then sighed. He made a gesture for Todd to say something, if he was going to.

“You want me to summarize? Fine. I’ll summarize. She told me that nobody would want to be with me - ever - let alone her, and that I barely passed for being human as it is. Or, was. Look at me now, notice anything different?” Sneering, Todd rolled up his sleeves and bared his arms.

Pietro stared. “Okay . . . so you have spots. Thought it was dirt on your face or something.”

“Yeah, I got spots. And I can fuckin’ talk to frogs. And I’ve been having fuckin’ nightmares every fuckin’ night - I can see things through a frog’s eyes!”

“That’s kind of cool,” Maximoff shrugged.

“No it’s not cool, yo!” Todd shouted. “I don’t want to be a frog, I want to be human!”

Fred and Pietro looked at each other, then back at him. “You are human. Just with frog-like qualities,” Pietro said, putting an arm around Todd’s shoulders. They slumped again under the weight.

“Not according to her,” he said miserably. “Look, I wasn’t trying to avoid you guys or nothin‘. I was just tryin’ to avoid Wanda for a while. I didn’t know what to say to her. And I don’t want her to see me like this. I know it’s stupid.”

“Yeah, maybe it is,” Fred said, ruffling Todd’s hair. “But it’s the kind of stupid we can understand. You can’t avoid her forever, you know. The mansion’s not that big.”

Todd shrugged. “I’d rather not deal with her just yet.”

“Fine, then don’t,” Pietro said impatiently. “Avoid her all you want, but you’re coming to drills tomorrow whether you like it or not. I’m sick of Summers thinking he’s one-upped us before he’s even begun.”

“Yeah, whatever. I’ll be there. Right now, I gotta make sure you didn’t kill Nadii.”

“Who?” Pietro wrinkled his nose in confusion.

“The little frog you were tossin’ around like a beanbag? If he’s hurt, I’m gonna be kickin’ your ass all over the place tomorrow, and Summers can have whatever‘s left,” Todd spat at him, angrily. Pietro backed away, hands up.

“Whoaaa. Chill out, Toad, I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Don’t you ever fuckin’ do that again, dawg!”

“Whatever. Cross my heart, okay? I won’t,” Maximoff shrugged. “Look, it’s been nice talking to you and finding out you haven’t secretly become one of the X-geeks, but it’s almost lunch and I gotta make sure I get the last croissant. If you want to hang out, come find us later. See ya!”

He was gone in a silver blur. Todd scowled in his direction and walked over to the pond.

“So . . . This is where you been the past few days?” Fred ventured. Todd shrugged, sitting down on the edge.

“Only the one time. Hang on a minute, kay?” Todd looked into the water, seeing vague shapes swimming beneath it.

{Nadii? You okay, buddy?}

There was a moment of quiet, then the water rippled.

{I am here. I am very dizzy, but alive. Thank you. The other Upright behind you . . . Is he dangerous . . .?}

{No, he ain’t. And Pietro will never do that to you again. I made him swear. Look, I gotta go. I’m glad you’re okay. I’m really sorry that happened.}

{It is alright. Some predators are much faster than others. It is fortunate he wanted to play with his food before eating me.}

Todd shook his head, not quite smiling but close. {See you later, Nadii. I’ll be back later.}

He stood up, to see Fred watching curiously. “Even if you don‘t like it, I still think it’s cool you can talk to frogs.”

“Yeah, I guess that part is. It ain’t really useful, but they’re fun to talk to.”

“So Pietro was tossin‘ him around? He shouldn‘t have done that. If I’d gotten there earlier, I coulda stopped him,” Fred said. “It gets me mad when people pick on little guys who can’t defend themselves.”

Todd grinned up at him. “No kiddin’. Sometimes I wish frogs could bite.”

Fred ruffled his hair again, laughing. “You can. You got the nastiest bite I ever seen.”

“Shut up, Fred,” Todd laughed, ducking under his large hand. “You wanna walk with me to the garage? I gotta check Logan’s bike out.” At Fred’s stunned look, Todd shook his head. “No, I ain’t gonna steal it or nothin‘. Don’t worry.”

“Well, I figured you weren‘t crazy, but . . . . since when are you on first name basis with Wolverine?”

“Don’t worry, yo. He’s actually pretty cool when he’s not runnin’ around with his claws out killing people. I been helpin’ him fix stuff.”

“Huh. This I gotta see.” Fred followed after him.




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